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Why Neurodiversity Should Matter to Your Business

Rachel Anderson

Digital Lead , London, UK

Digital

Neurodiversity is being talked about now more than ever. As awareness grows, it’s becoming increasingly clear to businesses that neurodivergent people are an integral part of their teams and of their customer bases.

What is neurodiversity?

‘Neurodiversity’ is commonly used as an umbrella term to describe alternative thinking styles, such as Dyslexia, DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia, Autism and ADHD. It is not a deficit or a disorder. However, society’s lack of understanding can make life more difficult for neurodivergent people.
Approximately 15-20% of the population has a neurological difference. Through better education and advocating for people’s needs, we’re now learning to better understand these differences and embrace neurodiversity.

Why this matters to business

It was a shock the first time someone explained to me that the product I was working on had failed their child; we’d been so careful to design a good user experience; we’d paid close attention to Nielsen Norman’s 10 usability heuristics and met WCAG AA contrast ratios across the user interface (UI).


The boy’s mother explained to me that her child had ADHD. He was reading a webpage when suddenly he began to cry. He thought he was being criticised and he couldn’t understand what he’d done wrong. The UI was showing an instructional note, accompanied by what we designers had thought was an innocent exclamation mark. But, it didn’t matter that the text carried a user friendly, informative message – he’d only noticed the exclamation mark – and saw nothing else after that.


She recommended we consider choosing our icons more carefully, noting that people on the autism spectrum often interpret metaphors quite literally, and that people with ADHD can easily lose their focus.
I then realised we needed to expand our definition of accessibility. We needed to learn about the various experiences of our neurodiverse audience and consider a broader range of needs in our designs.

 

Neuro-inclusive products are more usable for everyone

Cognitive accessibility is an emerging field for a lot of designers. Through learning and empathy, companies can be more inclusive and address their users’ needs. We’ve identified three simple and effective ways for you to integrate neurodivergent perspectives into your design process:

  1. Speak to neurodivergent people. The experiences of neurodivergent users are all different. So, it’s helpful to begin by building a broad, high-level understanding of what life can be like for them. Listen to their stories and experiences to understand the barriers they face in everyday life. There are a multitude of podcasts and YouTube channels amplifying the voices of neurodiverse people. Hearing their stories, in their own words, will help you to empathise and understand their unique situations.
  2. Do user research with neurodivergent users. Once you’ve built a basic understanding of what life can be like for neurodivergent individuals, sharpen your focus and learn about their specific experiences of using your product. Explore how you might reach out to those who identify as neurodivergent. Then, reflect on your current participant recruitment processes and user testing activities to make sure you’re not unintentionally screening out neurodivergent people. You might want to consider:
    • How you let participants know what to expect before signing up, and why it might be of interest to them.
    • If either the screener or the research activity itself requires a lot of reading. Might it prevent people from participating?
    • How you manage your time with the participant. Can you factor in breaks? When it comes to accommodating neurodivergent people in the research process, if you’re not sure what people’s specific needs might be, rather than guess or assume, just ask them!
  3. Make cognitive accessibility a key part of your business. It’s easy to see cognitive accessibility research as a one-time thing. But, you’ll see real impact when it’s integrated into every problem-solving challenge. Ask yourself how you might keep neurodiverse people’s needs at the forefront of your thinking? You might want to consider:
    • Building cognitive accessibility needs into your user personas. Then, every time you reference them, you’ll be reminded of their specific needs. The more you socialise your personas, the more others will learn too.
    • Adding simulator extensions or apps to your browser so that it only takes a moment to try out designs (Funkify and Dyslexia Bookmarklet are great).
    • Promoting awareness and continuous learning. At Synechron, we participate in Neurodiversity Celebration Week. We display posters, stream webinars, and have hosted our own internal discussion forum as a safe space to share experiences and ask questions.

 

Conclusion


Neurodiversity goes beyond labels. It’s about recognising those who think differently and appreciating that all individuals have unique strengths and challenges and that there is no one right way to think.
Looking at the figures for unemployment of neurodivergent people, we still have a long way to go. We all have a duty to break down the barriers that exclude neurodivergent people. As designers, we’ve promoted the importance of physical accessibility for a long time. Now it’s time to extend our knowledge and practice to include cognitive accessibility and welcome all those who think differently.

 

The Author

Rachel Anderson, Digital Lead at Synechron UK

Rachel Anderson is a product design leader based in London. With a Masters in Information Design, she has worked across global enterprise, social impact startups and innovation consulting. Rachel advocates for listening, learning and reflecting as essential skills in being a more effective designer, leader and human.

Synechron’s Global Digital Practice – We pride ourselves on creating user experiences that people love by exceeding expectations. Our core capabilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Digital Strategy Assessments 
  • Experience Design 
  • Application Development 
  • Product Discovery and Management 
  • Product Validation and MVP Creation

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